The Independent: Campaigners call for tighter regulation of Facebook racists

The Independent: Campaigners call for tighter regulation of Facebook racists

Far-right groups are operating openly on the social networking website

By Jerome Taylor, The Independent, Thursday, 23 April 2009

Facebook has become a breeding ground for racists and far-right extremists, according to immigrant leaders and anti-racism campaigners, who believe the site’s owners are not doing enough to clamp down on cyberhate.

More than 200 million people around the world belong to the social networking site, which attracts thousands of new members every day. The site is used by its members to communicate, swap photographs and set up groups of like-minded people, many of which are overtly political.

But campaigners fear racists are increasingly setting up their own groups to promote a visceral hatred of foreigners and immigrants and say more needs to be done to police online racism.

The Federation of Poles in Great Britain has become so disturbed by some of the content online that it has written a letter to Facebook’s owner Mark Zuckerburg, calling on him to close down an anti-Polish group where one member said Polish people should be thrown ‘down the well’.

Jan Mokrzycki, a spokesman for the federation, which was created after the Second World War to support the Polish community in Britain, said: ‘Generally we try not to react against every inflammatory gesture against Polish people, but the language within the website was so rude and racist that we felt like we had no choice.’

He added: ‘I recognise that you can’t stop every racist website out there, but I would like to think that a supposedly respectable site like Facebook would have better checks and controls on what gets put on their site.’

Right-wing extremists have often used the relatively unregulated world of the internet to spread their message by creating their own websites which are often registered abroad. But their activity on social networking sites has given them a much more mainstream presence.

The sheer size of Facebook’s online community makes monitoring extremists difficult. But a number of groups calling on Britain to throw out, and even kill, foreign nationals have been operating freely for months.

A group called ‘People hate Pakis’ boasts more than 80 members and claims to have been set up by ‘rebels’ from Bradford, where inter-racial tension remains a major problem. A second group calling itself ‘Get all the Paki’s [sic] out of England’ has more than 140 members, many of whom use racist language which is illegal under laws prohibiting incitement to racial hatred.

Dennis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham whose father fled Poland before the Nazi invasion and fought for Britain during the Second World War, said social networking sites had allowed racists to talk openly without fear of reprisals.

‘The way you defeat extremism, intolerance, prejudice and racism is to atomise it and make people feel that even if they think racist thoughts they can’t say it openly,’ he said. ‘But websites like Facebook have unfortunately allowed people to come together in one space and say, ‘there are people out there like me’. That is something that worries me greatly. For all the good social networking sites do, they also allow people to express prejudice that in a civilised society should be kept under lock and key.’

Facebook declined to comment yesterday. But in the past its founder Mr Zuckerburg has been reluctant to overly police his invention, which instead relies on users to report racist and offensive behaviour. Under the website’s terms and conditions, posts which are ‘abusive, vulgar, hateful or racially and ethnically objectionable’ are banned but in reality very little content is moderated.

Searchlight, the anti-racism group which monitors far-right extremism on the web, said websites should do more to monitor overtly racist content.

‘It is vital that in those instances where there is clear evidence of hate mail being distributed, [that] internet service providers act firmly and swiftly to shut them down,’ said a spokesman. ‘We cannot allow cyberspace to become a hideout for the peddlers of hate.’

This morning Facebook confirmed that it had taken down the Bradford-based anti-Pakistani group and was investigating the others. A spokesperson said: ‘We want Facebook to be a place where people can discuss issues and current affairs, while respecting the rights and feelings of others. However, there is no place for content that is threatening, abusive, hateful, or racially or ethnically objectionable on the site and Facebook will remove any such content that violates our Terms of Use when it is reported.’

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